At the tender age of seven, I experienced a profound spiritual crisis. Desperate for an answer to my predicament, I went to the rabbi because I believed he would give me a suitable answer. Why? I asked him with piqued curiosity. Why did God make me disabled?
Though I accepted the answers and guidance he provided me with, I continuously battled with my identity as a person with a disability. In elementary school, there were moments where I wished I could run around on the blacktop and play in the sandbox like my able-bodied peers and friends. They experienced a sense of freedom as they ran around, fell and got back up again, an experience I was wholly unfamiliar with.
However, in third grade, a nascent spark of creativity arose in me as I declared to my parents that I wanted to become a writer. Already a voracious reader, writing in my Spottie Dottie notebook became an exciting adventure in wordplay and imagination. I could write about anything – regardless of disability. Finally… my own sense of freedom! The world was my canvas, a canvas I intended to fill with as many words as possible. In addition to frenzied journal scribbling and writing short stories and one-act plays, television was what further ignited my curiosity and vivid desires when I discovered Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack. But it wasn’t until many, many years later as a college student at UC Berkeley when I had another profound revelation: television had changed my life. One television series in particular.
Originally titled Heroine, the supernatural television drama series Tru Calling debuted on FOX on October 30th, 2003, but was cancelled prematurely and without any resolution in April 2005 during the middle of its second season. This series follows a headstrong and fiercely intelligent young woman named Tru Davies (played by Eliza Dushku) who takes a job at the city morgue after her internship at a hospital falls through. During her first night shift, one of the dead bodies asks for her help. Her day rewinds and she must figure out how to save that person from an untimely death. Though she is not always successful, she remains persistent yet also empathetic and determined in her quest. Additionally, she struggles to keep her dysfunctional family together including her cocaine-addicted sister, Meredith (played by Jessica Collins), and her always-in-a-bind poker playing little brother, Harrison (played by Shawn Reaves). So, day in and day out, she basically has the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Though Tru does not have a disability, I instantly fell in love with this character. I began to view her supernatural ability as a kind of disability, which could either help or hinder her. On an even larger scale, the incessant calls of “help me” or “save me” made me reflect on my own life and fluctuating struggles of dependence vs. independence. As a person living with cerebral palsy, I have accepted that I will need some form of physical help for my entire life, but there’s another battle simultaneously brewing inside of me as well: When is the right time to ask for help and when do I complete the task entirely on my own? This loaded question proves to be an intricate one I am still learning to balance just as Tru struggled to accept the fact that some people she tried to save did not readily accept help from her. However, more than anything, I especially relate to Tru’s never-ending quest of attempting to maintain balance and a sense of normalcy in her life, which may not be accepted by others around her.
In a previous blog post, I discussed the social model of disability, which states that various stigmas, attitudes and systemic barriers created by society are more disabling than the disability itself. Society perpetuates an image of disability that distinctly contrasts how it should actually be represented. Within this facet of disability studies, I began to think further about the complexities of feminist disability studies and how it relates to the TV series I hold so close to my heart.
In the publication “Re-shaping, Re-thinking, Re-defining: Feminist Disability Studies” by English professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, she discusses the standpoint theory, “which recognizes the immediacy and complexity of physical existence. Emphasizing the multiplicity of women’s identities, histories and bodies, this theory asserts that individual situations structure the subjectivity from which particular women speak and perceive” (17). This particular theory only re-emphasized the importance of my own identity and existence, of continuously discovering who I am through the various situations I perceive and experience. Furthermore, it reminded me of Tru’s character, her quest for identity, the obstacles she’s had to face when saving someone’s life and how she reacts to the situations she faces daily.
Midway through the first season of the series, we are introduced to a new character, Jack Harper (played by Jason Priestley), who becomes the primary antagonist and acts as a foil. While Tru believes those that ask her for help should live, Jack believes they should stay dead. Thus, an epic battle between them ensues. At the end of one episode in the second season as Tru attempts to balance medical school classes with her job at the morgue, he threateningly tells her, “This med school thing is a nice dream, but you can’t have both worlds. As long as you do what you do, you don’t belong in there.”
There have been many people in my life who have “represented” Jack Harper and given me variations of a similar message. “You’ll never be able to walk again.” “You shouldn’t go into Honors English.” “Maybe Berkeley isn’t the right place for you.” The undertone of each of these messages is all the same… GIVE UP.
But, like Tru and her overwhelming and steadfast yearning to help others, I, too, intend on moving forward, pushing through each obstacle that crosses my path and dealing with it accordingly. It is through the character of Tru Davies that I have carved out my own calling of sorts, shaping my own destiny and disability self-identity. And, finally, it is because of Tru’s character that I now fully embrace what it means to be a heroine.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Re-shaping, Re-thinking, Re-defining: Feminist Disability Studies.” (2001): 1-30. Center for Women Policy Studies. 2001. Web. 7 Sept. 2011.